What's the Difference Between an Air Conditioner and Air Handler?

April 16, 2015

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are a variety of terms within the HVAC industry that can get baffling for homeowners. Not to mention all of the different pieces of heating and air conditioning equipment that can be used to increase your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually situated inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run with an air conditioner and holds the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s working with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Exactly like an air handler can work with an AC system, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than producing it, and the air handler moves all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some people, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler includes the blower, and several other components in the unit. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one component of many.

Here’s what you should know about air handlers: if you’re searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible you won’t need one. However, if you’re in the market for an electric heat pump, it’s helpful to know that an air handler will probably be a part of your home’s HVAC system.

Air Handler vs. Furnace

Air handlers and furnaces don't normally pair together. If you have a furnace you probably don't need to be concerned about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the building. Some air handlers also provide backup heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have their own blowers that move the heated air into your ductwork and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually situated outside the home. One of the most common misunderstandings about air conditioners is that they cool the existing air in your home. Air conditioners actually remove heat from inside your home through a number of parts within your system and expel it outside. The removal of heat is what makes the air feel cool, not the addition of cold air.

The warm air inside your home is pulled into the system through return ducts and then pass over a refrigerant coil. As the warm air is blown across the cooled coil, heat is removed. Refrigerant lines then send the heat outside. Now you’re left with cool, comfortable indoor air that you can enjoy on the hottest of days. And that’s pretty much it. Sure, the equipment is more complex than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and comprehend.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the Calgary climate is probably a little impractical, but there are a few things that can be helpful to you as a homeowner. If you’d like more information about your current system and whether an air handler or air conditioner is right for your home, give the pros at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning a call at 403-279-5760 or set up a free appointment online today.

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